In the thick Amazonian rainforest, moving goods around is tough going. Remote communities in this part of the world often rely on boats and winding river networks to get things to people in need, one of which is anti-venom in the event of a snake bite. WeRobotics, a non-profit that seeks to deploy robotics for humanitarian causes, believes there may be a better way of doing things.
WeRobotics teamed up with the Peruvian Ministry of Health and local doctors to conduct field tests using drones to deliver anti-venom to a remote Amazonian community in the region of Contamana. Doctors here report an average of 45 snakebites a month and timely access to anti-venom is a real problem.
Upriver from the town of Contamana lies a remote village called Pampa Hermosa, some 40 km (25 mi) away and up to six hours travel time by boat. The team used a US$3,000 fixed-wing mapping drone that had been repurposed to carry cargo (anti-venom in this case) to see if they could deliver the goods in a more efficient way.
The drone is lightweight with a foam body and, after being hand-launched from Contamana, it followed its programmed flight path and landed smoothly on a soccer field in Pampa Hermosa 35 minutes later. Here, local doctors retrieved the intact anti-venom and performed a simulated treatment on a make-believe snake-bite victim. Then that night, the team used the drone to send blood samples back to Contamana, a method doctors in Pampa Hermosa could use to get a faster diagnosis.
Using drones to carry goods over rough terrain is something we are seeing prove increasingly valuable in Africa. Already Rwanda is using unmanned aircraft to make emergency blood deliveries, while Kenya just became the second African nation to allow commercial drones, with upcoming relief services part of the reason why.
There was some uncertainty about whether blood samples could become spoilt while being carried by drone, but a recent study by Johns Hopkins University researchers laid these concerns to rest. The team tested blood samples following a drone flight for signs of damage and gave them a clean bill of health.
For its part, WeRobotics will continue its drone-delivered blood and anti-venom work in Peru following its first successful field trials. The team will land back in the Amazon this week and carry out further deliveries with a view to extending the range to beyond 100 km (62 mi).
You can check out the video below for an overview of their first run at it.